This Side of Insanity
There are some things better left unseen. Things that slither into
the soul and change a person. Things that live in the dark recesses of
the human mind. Things that hover just there on the edge of sanity and
linger for the sole purpose of temptation, to lure us there, to the
other side, to insanity. Nobody talks about them, mostly because those
that see them rarely survive to tell about them, or end up babbling
inside some ward behind locked doors.
The path around the park was smooth, paved and fairly level, with just a
few inclines but the section that ran around the lake was lonely, the
lake to one side and trees to the other. She wasn't thinking about the
lake, the trees or the weather. But she was deep in thought, her
brain replaying the night before, when she had stood by the end of the
lake, looking into the sun at the opposite end. What had she seen? If
not for the morning news she would have doubted she really saw anything
She stopped at just the same spot as last night, looked into the setting
sun and let her mind conjure up the image from the night before.
A girl, of about ten, had walked slowly at the opposite end of the lake,
oblivious, lost in thought, ear buds stuffed into her ears, and her
pony tail bopping along to the music. As she stood watching her, she
felt a slight twinge of regret, childhoods lost and time marching on,
then she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Something dark
lumbered toward the girl and it was unlike anything she had ever seen
before, so frozen in disbelief she just watched as it edged closer to
the unsuspecting girl.
It walked on all fours but hunched forward, bear like yet the outline
was so blurry and undefined that she couldn't make out its identity. She
opened her mouth to shout but realized the music would make it
impossible for the girl to hear her. She started to run, her sneakers
slapping against the pavement. The thing turned in her direction, looked
at her, and yawned. The cavernous mouth gaped open and even from a
distance she could make out the double rows of shiny white teeth. Heart
pounding she stopped and it was just at that moment that the creature,
close behind the girl, opened its mouth again but this time it was not
yawning but devouring. She closed her eyes in horror and when she opened
them mere seconds later the path at the end of the lake was empty.
She stared, shook her head and then slowly walked along the path,
stopping at the spot she had last seen the girl, She stared at the
ground, searching for saliva or blood or a lost shoe, finding none she
clenched her teeth and walked to her car without a look backwards, Her
fear was real but now the fear centered on herself. It was happening
again and she felt powerless to save herself. The dread was building
inside her and she knew it would be only a short time before they came
looking for her.
Now lured here by her memories and the news story, she stood looking at
the end of the lake. She knew it was real, she knew it, she just did,
But she knew better than to report it. Last time, in the last town, she
had spoken up and had ended up nine months in a locked ward, until she
had pulled herself together enough to pretend to come out of her
"psychotic" episode.She had walked out the doors that day wanting to get
as far away from the place as she could. For the others there might
just hallucinate but she saw, she did, she just knew it.
There has been a time there on the locked ward when she had almost
thrown it all away, the pretending to get well. It was the night Henry
disappeared. They said he had escaped somehow but she knew better. He
hadn't escaped. He had been sucked into the walls of the third floor
hallway by the wall creature. The creature with long boney fingers, that
popped out of the wall at unexpected times, in unexpected places and
tugged on people, But when it tugged at Henry, he had looked at it with
soulful eyes and stepped right into the wall with the creature. She
supposed that Henry lived there now, in the walls and she was glad to
walk out the front doors before she encountered him in a lonely hallway
or the showers at the back of the dorm. '
She was tempted last night to explain away what she had witnessed as a
fit of imagination, although why anyone would imagine anything so
horrific she had no idea. But this morning she had listened to the
morning news, first with sense of relief and then with a sense of dread
when the story came on. She had been silently willing it not to, but it
did, and she listened to the tearful mother asking for the return of a
child that she, herself knew would never return. Even as the news aired,
the child digested in the belly of a beast. A beast that others could
not see and would not search for. She knew this and she also knew that
should she speak up they would look at her oddly, question her, suspect
her and eventually lock her up for her own good.
That's what they said, "its for your own good' and with pitying eyes
they would stare at her but they also showed just a bit of
fear....because "what if" they wondered. Not what if the creatures
existed but what if she had did it....what if it was her who had swept
away the child and did God only knows what to her.
Now she stood here at the edge of the lake, in much the same situation
she had been in just a few years ago, another time, another town but
still the same and the anxiety sucked at her like a baby at the breast.
She stood for so long that others begin to notice and cast wary glances
her way. She moved on, walking quickly past the place the girl had been
sucked into the belly of the beast.
In the car she rested her head against the steering wheel, tears sliding
slowly down her cheeks. She waited for dusk then got out of the car
with the tire iron in her hand. This time she would slay the creature.
She would stop its feeding cycle. She shivered as she sat crossed legged
at the spot of the beasts dinner the previous night. She thumped the
tire iron against her knee and stared into the coming gloom.
The trees rustled in the evening breeze but along with the rustling she
could hear heavy breathing and the slinky footsteps of the creature on
the hunt. It appeared almost out of thin air on the path just a few feet
from her and she scrambled to her feet, caught unaware. The beast
roared a silent roar, showing its razor sharp teeth, it charged. She
thrust the tire iron into its open mouth.
It scratched at her with its puny front legs, which were stunted and
offered little in the way of defense. She shoved harder and the tire
iron gouged into the back of the creature's throat causing it to heave.
Choking and heaving it backed away from her, then it emptied the
contents of its stomach. A thick mucous twinged with blood, pooled on
the pavement of the path. The beast jerked away and disappeared into the
woods in the darkness of the falling night. She sat there all night, in
the moonlight she stared at the small pink tennis shoe that rested in
the middle of the puddle.
They found her there the next morning, bagging the shoe, they led her
away to another psych evaluation, another locked ward, in another
hospital, and she hoped this one didn't have the wall creatures. The
beast confused by the attack moved on, to another town, in another
state, and even today everyone in this town, in this place, wonders
where she put the body.
She travels the hallways of the hospital, alone even here where
others see things. But she knows the difference between the others and
herself. For the things they see are conjured up in their brains while
the ones she sees.... are birthed of evil, sent to collapse the wall that divides sanity and insanity, and to tease the soul into submission.
Henry, Oh Henry
She knew they looked at her chart daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
They wrote her name in their notes, as if by doing so, they knew
her..... Macy.......She said it out loud sometimes at night, letting it
roll off her tongue and trying to remember what it felt like to be plain
old Macy, not crazy as bat shit Macy.
Sometimes during a session they would bring up the monster, the one that
lived under the bed in the hotel in Cottonville,where she worked as a
maid a lifetime ago. The one that insisted on creeping out and
tormenting her with its evil grin and its red eyes, The one who started
all this trouble and turned her into Crazy Macy instead of plain
ordinary Macy. Sometimes they still questioned her about it but not as
much as in the early days here.
She listened as the frigid wind swirled around the sign out front,
causing it to groan and creak, swinging on the chains that suspended it
from the posts. She sat in her bed with her knees pulled up to her chin
and shivered more from her thoughts than the cold. She remembered the
sign, remembered what it looked like as the ambulance pulled into the
circle drive and deposited her on the steps. Clarkson Mental Sanatorium
She remembered it even though then, during the early days, she was
filled with doubt and considered herself quite as insane as they
believed her to be.
For weeks she walked around in a drug induced stupor, barely noticing
her surroundings, hardly tasting the food on her tray. She painted in
those first weeks here, painted the boogeyman under the bed in brilliant
colors rather then the deep gray that was his true color. She painted
him red, blue, yellow and orange. Hoping the bright colors might mute
his power, making him more clown like. They looked at her painting,
whispered about them, ask her to tell stories about them until one day
she suddenly just stopped painting. That was just about the same time
she started cheeking her medicine, flushing the pills down the toilet
when no one was looking,.
Without the numbing effect of the pills, she slept less and in the
darkness of her room, late at night, she played over the memories.
Played them over and over until she realized that it was not she that
was mad but the world of the unseeing that mindlessly went through life
oblivious to the existence of these creatures. What had happened there
in the hotel was real. It started in that old hotel but she knew it had
chased her for awhile, Glimpses of shadowy figures, slithering sounds
that never reached the ears of others, a sense of foreboding. it had
been there for a while, maybe a few years before it pounced full force
into her life with the creature under the bed.
That's how she came to be here and it is here that she meet Henry, the
kindest gentlest, old man she had ever met, But he was sad, mired down
in the darkness of his despair, mindlessly going through the actions of
living. Eating, dressing, walking around empty. They spent hours
talking, first about ordinary things like the food, the weather or
whatever old TV show they let them watch. But later they talked about
the creatures, and when she talked he listened, never questioning, never
doubting, accepting her version of the world. She felt guilty because
in the end she believed his indifference to the creatures is what let
him slip so easily into their world.
One day they sat together in the sun room, curled up in the faded
chairs, carefully keeping an eye out for the orderlies. Neither wanted
to be caught talking about the forbidden subjects.
"So Mace, what do you think happened at the hotel after you left?" Henry
asked, scruffy eyebrows raised as he peered at her over the magazine he
was pretending to read.
She shrugged, "I don't know, perhaps it continued or perhaps it passed
on to some other place. No one saw it but me. They all lived in their
own make believe reality, where monsters don't exist. But Henry I know
"Oh I believe you girly, I really do. I've been fighting them for years." his voice cracked as he spoke.
"Now Henry we've been over this before, that's not the same thing at all....."
"And why not? It's just as likely that this black gloom is a slug
encrusted with despair just as probable as chemical imbalance? Can't
prove...chemical imbalance.. any more than a thick, soul sucking, slug."
She put down her magazine and thought about what he had just said. She
supposed it could be true. She had never seen anything lingering around
Henry but she imagined there were lots of things she may have missed.
Perhaps it buried deep into him while he slept or maybe it was inside
him right now, nestled at his core sucking away at his life force.
He watched her closely, waiting as if her word was authority. Their eyes
met and she nodded her agreement. it was possible, after all she had no
idea how many creatures existed, just outside the realm of
consciousness. But there was danger in such acknowledgement. As if the
act of accepting their existence, gave them breathe, brought them into
being, as an author creates characters.
She decided to confide in him about what she sensed upstairs. In the
hallway of the third floor, she had started to notice damp footprints on
the old tile floor. They appeared without warning but sometimes on the
very edges of her hearing she heard faint footsteps, falling like a
gentle rain in the long, empty hallway. He listened quietly and nodded.
"Any time when they appear more often?" he asked but before she could
answer an orderly showed up and briskly told them it was time to return
to their rooms for afternoon quiet time. Macy wanted to roll her eyes.
Quiet time was contrived for the express purpose of getting all the
patients in their rooms for medication.
Back in her room, medicine lodged in her cheek, she waited for the
orderly to disappear before she shuffled to the bathroom to flush the
pill. A creeping cold crawled over her skin in the bathroom and she felt
eyes watching her. She jerked around but there was nothing there other
than the sterile white walls of the institution. The feeling nagged at
her as she climbed into bed, even without the medicine she was sleepy.
Sometimes she slept and other times she lay with her eyes closed
replaying things in her mind over and over again. In therapy they called
it perseverating. She had stopped talking about it after a while
because she grew leery of their prodding.
She closed her eyes and dozed for what she thought was only a few
minutes when she felt someone standing over her. Terror gripped her and
she clenched her eyes tighter,willing whoever or whatever it was to go
away. She could feel a hot misty breath on her face, someone was leaning
in to kiss her. She heard a slight chuckle, it knew she was awake,
pretending to sleep, avoiding seeing it. She felt the exact moment it
moved away from the bed and her eyes flew open. She caught only a
glimpse of a shadowy figure as it stepped into the wall and vanished.
She struggled to draw in her breath, for an instant wishing she had
taken the pill today, then she would have been in such deep slumber
nothing would have awoken her. Trembling under the sheet she held
tightly against her, she wondered what it wanted.
The sun room was ablaze with sunshine in the late afternoon, it cascaded
off of her but did little to warm her. She hadn't slept again after
the encounter in her room and she wished she knew where Henry was. He
hadn't shown up as he usually did after they were released from the
cells of their rooms. She worried that he was somewhere immobile, the
fat slug of despair sucking unrelenting at him.
He wasn't but she had no way of knowing that. Instead he sit on the
bottom step of the stairs, with the steps leading to the third floor
behind him. Face buried in his hands, he rocked slightly back and forth,
it wasn't despair that gripped him. Instead doubt and confusion surged
through him. He had considered telling the girl the whole of his story;
why he had ended up here at the sanatorium. Now he felt like he had
waited too long to do so. She had bared her soul to him, offered up her
stories, her reality, like caviar on a silver platter but he had kept a
morsel of his own hidden. Partly because it confused him and he couldn't
tease out the fact from the fiction. He wasn't sure what parts were his
own reality and what were nuggets planted there inside him by others.
Before Clarkson, he had been successful. Well, if success could be
measured by dollars. He had money; plenty of it even though he burnt
through a lot of it. He had laughed and loved and lost like just about
everybody else on this hellish planet. Until the night they came, asking
questions, looking, tapping here and there, while he sat with the
unfolded search warrant open on his life. He hadn't even known Sasha was
They had quarreled several days previously and she had simply left, or
at least he had thought she left, but as it would turn out, she had
been there all the time, not answering his calls or texts, but how could
she? They found her tucked inside the wall, wrinkled from the heat,
grimacing in death in a somewhat similar way to how she smiled in life.
The thing is...he hadn't remembered putting her there, he wasn't sure he
had, but they were sure. They couldn't explain it; the wall was solid
with no signs of repair, so that one thing couldn't be explained but
still they were sure, so sure. And so he accepted what they said and let
them lead him away, the deep darkness of it clinging to him like a
Now he sat here, worried, he hadn't told the girl and wondered if he
should. It hadn't mattered before. No one here cared about the past, or
cast cautious glances at others, they simply coexisted; living the
mundane life of the hospital. But now he felt a connection, as co
conspirators, together in a broken world. So the heavy black stone of
regret settled in the pit of his stomach. Something she had said, nudged
at him, he wanted her to know; needed to ask her about something that
teased at the corners of his memory. Everyone had been so sure, everyone
except him; and now it ate at him worse than the slug of despair.
The next morning he found her in the corner of the sun room, dark
circles under her eyes, jittery and keyed up more than he had ever seen
her before. He flopped on the sofa right next to her. Forget about the
"What's up girly?" he asked patting her knee as he spoke. She looked at him with mournful eyes...
"There's something here, it's happening again" she whispered and a single tear slid down her left cheek.
He didn't speak, he waited, watching her closely out of the corner of
his eye. He barely breathed. Then the story burst forth from her like a
volcano spewing lava and ash. It came in hot bursts, fear filled, words
like burning embers. He wasn't surprised at her words but he was
surprised at her terror. In all the times she had talked about the hotel
monster, she had never trembled, her voice had always been strong and
steady. Now she looked like a fragile child.
"It just disappeared into the wall." her words floated to him like the
fluttering wings of a butterfly, he gasped at them. they reminded him of
his own story and the body in the wall, She cast an odd glance his way
and before he really had time to weigh his words, he unraveled the story
of his past, wrapping her in his own doubt and remorse.
When he finished they both sat staring at each other, not speaking but
letting the idea of the wall creature caress their thoughts, sending
shivers to the very core of their beings. She wasn't afraid of him, even
if he had murdered someone, there were far worse things in this world
than a murder committed in anger. She should know. If he had murdered a
lover in anger, which she doubted, she could comprehend that. Where the
emotions came from, how quick the heart can flip from love to hate. That
was easy to understand, easier than the creatures that slithered
through the landscape of her life.
Several days and several whispered conversations later, they were
sneaking together through the third floor hallway when it happened. The
creature, long bony fingers beckoning, stepped right out of the wall in
front of them. It's elongated head with ebony black eyes twisted to peer
at them. Both she and Henry were frozen, staring in astonishment at the
creature they were both pursuing and running from. The dark eyes looked
first at Macy and then at Henry, the mouth stretching into a grimace.
Or perhaps it was smiling, Macy couldn't be sure.
None of them spoke, but Henry whimpered, and at that exact moment, the
creature locked gazes with Henry and beckoned with a slender finger.
Henry's soulful eyes looked at her for an instant and then he was
stepping forward. Before Macy had a chance to react, Henry grasped at
the creature and the two disappeared into the wall, leaving her staring
after them with open mouth.
They found her wandering the upstairs hallways calling Henry's name.
When they placed the medication inside her dry mouth, she gulped from
the glass and gratefully swallowed the pill, following it into oblivious
darkness. In a hazy daze of pills and grief, she slept for days,
awaking only for short periods of time, in which she stared fearfully at
the walls, both hoping and dreading that Henry might step out of one
and beckon her to follow.
She was never quite sure how she managed it but she pulled herself
together. Perhaps it was her desperate need to leave this place that
propelled her into action. But eventually she walked out the doors into
the sunshine, eternally grateful to have escaped before Henry had come
She took a bus, she couldn't remember which one, changing them
frequently, traveling aimlessly for miles. Trying to run away but never
really escaping, in her heart she had come to realize there is no
escape. Just this side of insanity is a barren, desolate place, it reeks
of despair, gasping for life but finding only a wasteland; it withers
inside, stalking the soul. In agony it waits.
Seeds of Insanity
Ordinary days just start, extraordinary days burst forth, taking our
breath away, shifting our world, trampling our reality. Although in hind
sight she realized that there had been signs, a fore shadowing,
tantalizing clues to future events. She had missed them and forever she
would wonder if that made a difference.
Macy tucked the corner of the sheet in with one hand and fluffed a
pillow with the other.This job was becoming tedious but she was ill
prepared for anything else. She spent periods of time searching for a
new job, scanning the paper each week, but in the end it just took took
much energy to find something else. She grabbed the trash can liner and
threw it carelessly into the larger can on her cart. Ripping loose a
new liner she mindlessly inserted it.
As she went to place it next to the bed her foot struck something just
under the edge of the bed. Whatever it was rolled deeper under the bed
she bent down and peered under. It was shiny and elongated. Stretching
she reached for it, hairs standing on end along her arm, she grasped it,
pulled it out and muttered.
"A frigging travel mug, worthless." turning she tossed in the trash
bin. As she did something grabbed her ankle and she jerked away from the
side of the bed; gasping, she collided with her cart. Puzzled she
dropped to the floor and from a distance scanned the area under the bed.
Her eyes skated from one end to the other but only dark carpet
stretched under the bed.
Room 212 was unoccupied, other than herself so she chalked it up to an
active imagination and moved on to the next room. Had she bothered to
look at her ankle she might have noted the dark red marks encircling her
ankle. Only later would she notice them darkening into bruising.
The next day she found her self doing the same thing, all over again,
mindlessly cleaning rooms, one after another. When she reached room 212,
she hesitated, glancing down the hallway, searching for some reason to
skip this particular room, finding none, she opened the door and stepped
into her nightmare.
She tackled the bathroom first, bathrooms always gave her an immediate
sense of accomplishment, towels in the cart hamper, sinks shined,
mirrors wiped down, and cute little bottles of shampoos and lotions
replaced, she turned back into the room itself. She walked cautiously
toward the bed.
Then the world as she had always known it ceased to exist. It didn't
come to an end with a blast, or a roar, or even a bang. Instead it came
to a end with a hiss, a slithering sound and grayness. She first
noticed the gray, at the start she thought it was a rumpled discolored
sheet protruding from under the bed but as she walked forward, it
slipped from under the bed, raised to its hind feet, locking its eyes on
her, it challenged her movement. She froze.
She was reminded of a large lizard, its skin rough, but it had human
qualities too, its skull all too familiar in size and structure. It
twisted now, stretching after being confined under the bed, and as it
moved it transformed, becoming more human like, but still retaining its
reptilian skin, with sharp claws on miniature hands. She found herself
lost not in its beady eyes but in its grayness. She felt herself
swirling into the grayness of the creature. helpless to break free.
Cocking its head, it blinked at her and opened its mouth, stretching
lips over rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. It seemed to smile, she
mindlessly noted the dark red nestled between the teeth, old blood and
bright red new blood too. She shivered. Then as quickly as it had
appeared, it dropped to the floor and slithered snake like under the
bed. Her eyes darted around the room, waiting for it to reappear, but
the room remained empty, it was then she noticed the black shoes, the
feet protruding from under the foot of the bed. That's when she found
her voice and she screamed but no one heard.
She charged from the room, as if on fire, fleeing down the hallway
without looking back. The police arrived, recorded some information, and
exchanged guarded glances when she talked abut the creature under the
bed. They sent her home early that day.
How she managed to continue working she had no idea. She wondered about
it later and thought perhaps it was simply a product of pretending.
Pretending, as if, the police were right and her vision of the creature
was simply the shock of the sight of the mutilated man; the raw gaping
wound in his throat turning gray around the edges. Two weeks went by,
her mind screaming silently to run, to flee, to escape but as so often
happens there was no escape really. The creature had slithered into
existence in the hotel room, in her mind, in her life and killing it was
It was on the third day of the third week and she stood beside her cart
just outside a room. She wasn't even sure of the room number, but it was
the second floor and that alone numbed her, frozen with dread, unable
to open the door, incapable of crossing the threshold into a nightmare.
In the end, she didn't even have to open the door.She felt it behind
her. Slithering along the hallway floor, approaching her without
hesitation. She clenched her eyes shut, refusing to look, hoping that
things only come into being through acknowledgement. If she could simply
wish it away. Then she felt the tiny scratches, pinpoints on her ankles
and without thinking she looked down.
It's head was cocked to the side in a impossible position, like a doll
with its head rotated all the way around. It grinned at her with tiny
pointed teeth and black eyes. She thought of a deep abyss when she met
those eyes, heart lurching, she swirled and ran screaming down the
hallway into the lobby, out into the street. She wouldn't have stopped
at all if she hadn't collided with a moving car in the middle of the
She awoke to flashing
lights, medics and curious eyes. They loaded her onto the stretcher and
carted her off to the hospital, first to x-ray then to intensive care
and eventually into a psych consult. After which she ended up at
Clarkson Mental Sanatorium, That's where insanity met reality. It's
where she met
Henry and the creature in the wall. That's where she came to realize
that the seeds of insanity aren't cultivated in the mind but rather grow
just this side of sanity in the dark dampness of doubt, watered by
terror and nourished with evil intent.
(This Side of Insanity series compiled) (Copyright Ginger Schenck, 2016)